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Protests For Navalny In Russia Represent A Generational Divide

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

More protests are expected this weekend by Russians demanding the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. He was arrested after returning from Germany, where he was recovering from a poisoning, which he blames on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny is 44 and Putin 68. As Lucian Kim reports from Moscow, the conflict between the two men reflects, among other things, a generational divide in Russia.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: A week ago, the Russian Internet was burning up with social media posts about upcoming demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalny. On TikTok, a young woman suggested protesters pretend they're Americans if they get arrested and gave a crash course in American English.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm gonna (ph) call my lawyer. Gonna - I'm gonna call my lawyer. Gonna is I'm going to.

KIM: After Navalny's call for protests. The authorities said more than 300 minors have been detained nationwide at rallies last weekend. State television went into overdrive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED HOST: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Political pedophiles is how the host of the main weekend news show called Navalny and his team. Yekaterina Shulman, a political scientist in Moscow, says the authorities are wrong to focus on minors. She says the protests were dominated by people between the ages of 25 and 45.

YEKATERINA SHULMAN: There is no value conflict between the 20-somethings and their parents, but there is a very perceptible divide between those aged 55-plus and all the rest.

KIM: She says Russian society can be divided into a generation formed by the Soviet Union and everybody else.

SHULMAN: It's like we have this very separate nation. I would call them Soviet boomer generation. They are different from their own children and from their grandchildren.

KIM: In other words, it's the difference between Russians who use the Internet and those who do not - or between Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin. Navalny, who's been banned from national television, has mastered the use of social media to launch his attacks on the Kremlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIM: His latest video, more powerful than any TikTok post, has had 100 million views since his team posted it on YouTube last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

ALEXEI NAVALNY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: In the almost two-hour film, Navalny takes viewers inside a mysterious palace on the Black Sea that he claims was built for Putin for more than $1 billion.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

NAVALNY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Using detailed floor plans and photographs, Navalny created a computer-simulated tour through a gaudy palace with its own theater, casino, vineyards and even an underground hockey rink. Putin's denial was, of course, broadcast live on state television during a videoconference with college students.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He said he didn't have time to watch the video, though, curiously, he said his aides had brought him printouts of it. Putin said he and his close relatives did not own the property, even though Navalny never asserted that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Putin ended his tortured explanation with a line from a 1976 Soviet movie.

Yekaterina Shulman says Putin is typical of the older generation that has lost touch with the rest of Russia.

SHULMAN: Generational change is inevitable. You can't fight it. It is bound to happen.

KIM: If Navalny can stay alive, she says, he will be a part of Russia's future.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "FORGIVENESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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